Kelsey Epperson Dominates $5,000 Traverse City Derby Aboard Didgereedoo VDL and Tulio at the Traverse City Spring Horse Show, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel 

Traverse City, Mich. – June 13, 2021 – Week I of the Traverse City Spring Horse Show concluded Sunday in the Polk Family Hunter Ring with the highly anticipated $5,000 Traverse City Derby, featuring 19 talented horse-and-rider combinations. In the end, Kelsey Epperson dominated the field of derby riders placing first on Didgereedoo VDL, who finished on a total score of 177 and finished second on Tulio, riding to a combined score of 175. Nick Haness rounded out the top three with Crowd Pleaser, earning a combined total score of 174.

Kelsey Epperson and Didgereedoo VDL, Photo courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography

Course designer Keith J Bollotte laid out a beautifully decorated 11-obstacle course for the first round allowing the hunter athletes to open up their horses’ strides and carry a flowing pace throughout the entirety of the course. Many riders found issues with the long approaches to the single fences and keeping an open pace throughout the course, leading to several rails down.

Epperson, aboard her longtime partner Didgereedoo VDL, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Lashier Properties LLC, proved to be a force to be reckoned with after laying down a jaw-dropping first round, scoring an 88 which helped put them towards the top of the leaderboard. This dynamic pair came into the Hunter Derby with a win earlier in the week in the Performance Hunter 3’6″.

Kelsey Epperson and Didgereedoo VDL, Photo courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography

The handy round consisted of several long bending lines and a short turn to a trot jump, and allowed riders to show off the handiness of their horses. Epperson and Didgereedoo VDL continued to impress the judges with their fluidity, textbook form and open galloping pace that they met every jump with, which would help them obtain a second-round score of an 89, ultimately lending them the lead with a combined total score of 177.

Kelsey Epperson and Tulio

After dominating the field on Didgereedoo VDL, Epperson rode her second mount, Tulio, the 7-year-old Zangersheide gelding owned by LTF & Company LLC, to a second-place finish earning a first-round score of 86 and a second-round score of 89. The judges were impressed with Tulio’s bold pace, grand jump and beautiful expression as he executed the course beautifully. Tulio is a new mount for Epperson, and she spoke highly of their future partnership and the talent this young horse possesses.

Nick Haness and Crowd Pleaser

Haness rounded out the top three aboard Crowd Pleaser, a 14-year-old Selle Francais gelding owned by West Coast Equine Partners LLC, earning a first-round score of 85 and finishing with a second-round score of 89. The pair have had a long history together competing in the Hunter Derbies where they have had tremendous success. After scoring an 85 in round one, the horse and rider combination impressed the judges in the second round with their handiness and giant stride, which helped them secure third place on a combined score of 174, just one point behind the second-place finisher.

Riders who have enrolled in the new Hunter Incentive Program have already begun their three-week qualifying period to be in contention for Hunter Derby Finals. Hunter Derby Finals will run concurrently with the 51st Anniversary of the American Gold Cup held during Traverse City Fall Horse Show III. The new incentive program has been put in place to highlight hunter athletes and their horses. Over $275K in guaranteed prize money is on the table, and horses who are not enrolled in the program are still eligible to compete for the prize money as long as they have competed for three weeks during the Traverse City Horse Shows.

Hunter competition will continue in the Polk Family Ring Monday, June 14 at 8:00 a.m. with the COTH High-Performance Conformation Model and ending the day with the USHJA Hunter 3’0”.


Kelsey Epperson – $5,000 Traverse City Derby

On first week at TCS:
“I could not have expected this week to go any better. I just wanted them all to go really well and have a great start to the summer. It has exceeded my expectations, I can’t believe that they have all been this good this week.”

On the course:
“I had a Green Hunter 3’0″ go, and I was actually really excited because it was a really good course for him. It was very nice and inviting, and very simple for him. I knew that it would be good for the other two that I did, but I knew that I was going to have to do something to keep their attention because I didn’t want them to keep getting lower or get distracted.”

On handiness of the course:
“I thought Didgereedoo VDL [Diddy] handled the course amazingly, he honestly trotted into the ring and he was all business and all ready to go. At that moment, I knew that he was going to give me his all. As soon as I picked up my canter, I knew I was just going to let him have this and you let me know if you need me. In the handy, once we landed off the last and I knew that I could open him up to the hand gallop jump, I was just having fun and galloping to the last jump. I just told myself to enjoy it.”

On plans for the summer:
“Our plans for Diddy are just to continue to do the Hunter Derby’s. We really want to do the Hunter Derby’s in the fall with the big prize money at the end of the circuit.”

On hunter offerings:
“We are super excited because we love to spend the whole summer up here. We love that they have this new program going on for the hunters and we love that there is something exciting for our hunters to look forward to and give us a goal for the end of the circuit.”

A big thank you:
“I would also like to give a big thank you to the owners of all three of my mounts and to the people who help make this possible, Sharon Lashier, Linda Jacob and Margaret Hackstedde.”


$5,000 Traverse City Derby
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 Score / R2 Score | Total
1. Didgereedoo VDL / Kelsey Epperson / Lashier Properties LLC / 89 / 88 | 177
2. Tulio / Kelsey Epperson / LTJ & Company LLC / 86 / 89 | 175
3. Crowd Pleaser / Nick Haness / West Coast Equine Partners LLC / 85 / 89 | 174
4. Commander B / Jordon Killkenny / Molly Welborn / 77 / 88 | 165
5. Copernicus K / Tiffany Morrissey / Kathryn Withers / 92 / 71 | 163
6. Any Given Sunday / Megan Ghere / Donald Stewart / 79 / 83 | 162
7. G. Eleven / Riley Hogan / Lucas Meija Fanjul / 81 / 80 | 161
8. Kabrio / Caroline Berg / Caroline Berg / 78 / 76 | 154
9. Mardi Gras! / Kelsey Epperson / Margaret Hackstedde / 80 / 70 | 150
10. Moonwalk / Hillary Johnson / Copper Fox LLC / 75 / 66 | 141
11. Reddington / Nick Haness / Gail Ellis / 90 / 47 | 137
12. On Call / Nick Haness / Susan Friedland / 82.5 / 33 | 115.5